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Esteban Ocon receives Mercedes support for 2015 season

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MONTMELO – Mercedes has confirmed that it will support GP3 driver Esteban Ocon for the 2015 season following his split with Lotus at the beginning of the year.

Ocon, 18, is one of the brightest talents racing in junior motorsport at the moment. The Frenchman won last year’s FIA Formula 3 European Championship in 2014, beating current Toro Rosso driver Max Verstappen to the title.

He looked poised to step up to either GP2 or Formula Renault 3.5 in 2015 with Lotus’ support, but after his deal with the team fell through, he sought refuge in GP3 with ART Grand Prix.

However, Mercedes has today announced that Ocon will enjoy support from the German marque in 2015 with a view to a closer relationship in the future.

Besides GP3, Ocon will also act as the official test and reserve driver for Mercedes in the DTM championship, Germany’s premier national touring car series, and “has signed a contractual option that could see him become a fully fledged Mercedes-Benz driver in the future”.

“Esteban is a mega-talented young guy and one of the stars of the future,” Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said. “I’m pleased we’ve found a good path to continue his relationship with Mercedes-Benz, because we have a strong tradition of supporting the best young drivers with a view to their long-term potential.

“We will be watching Esteban’s progress with a lot of interest and I hope this year will be the first of many working together.”

Ahead of his debut in GP3 this weekend, Ocon expressed his delight with the new Mercedes deal, and hopes that it can spur him on to challenge for the series title in 2015.

“I’m really proud to have the support of Mercedes-Benz this season and that the Mercedes AMG DTM team has trusted me with the important role of test and reserve driver,” Ocon said.

“I spent last weekend with the DTM team in Hockenheim and hope that I can play a valuable role this year. But my main focus is on the opening races of the GP3 Series this weekend.

“I am proud to be racing with support from Mercedes-Benz and in a fantastic team like ART Grand Prix. I hope that I can compete for the title this year, starting with strong results in Barcelona.”

Button: Impossible to predict F1 pecking order

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Jenson Button is unsure how the F1 field is shaping up ahead the first race of the season in three weeks’ time, saying that he has little idea of where McLaren lies in the pecking order.

The British team has endured a difficult pre-season due teething problems with the new Honda-powered MP4-30 car. A recurrence of Thursday’s issue limited Button to just 24 laps on Saturday in Barcelona, giving the Briton plenty of time to see what the other teams are doing.

“I’ve had time to look at the screens, but I haven’t got a clue what’s going on in terms of who’s quick and who isn’t,” Button said. “Really difficult to read. I think you can expect the Mercedes to be the quickest, looking at the long runs.

“I think Ferrari is pretty strong but then I really don’t know where Williams is, really difficult to read. Sauber looks reasonably good which is good for them, very happy for them at the moment. Red Bull, they look pretty good.

“But it’s tricky. You put the soft tire on some people and it gains them 1.5 seconds; some people it’s three to four tenths. It’s all very random at the moment.”

Button believes that this sets the scene for a closely-fought first race of the year in Australia on March 15, contrasting the dominance of Mercedes in 2014.

“I think it makes it great for the first race and really makes it exciting,” Button said. “You could read last year, you could see the Mercedes [first] then the Williams was second quickest, then probably us third quickest in winter testing.

“Whereas this year, I haven’t got a clue which is great. I think it’ll be a mixed-up field at the first race.”

McLaren’s test came to an early end in Barcelona as an accident for Fernando Alonso cut short the team’s running. The Spaniard was airlifted to a local hospital for a check-up, but was confirmed to be “uninjured and fine” by the team on Sunday afternoon.

Hamilton charges from ninth to second, but loses more ground to Rosberg

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Ordinarily, making up seven places across the course of a grand prix and finishing in second place after a difficult qualifying session would be considered a success.

However, for Lewis Hamilton in Austria, this result only saw him lose more ground to teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship after the German driver claimed his third victory of the season today.

Hamilton started the race from ninth after failing to set a time during the final part of qualifying yesterday. The Briton made a rocket start, and was up to fourth on the second lap. He then fought past the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa to move up to second place, but just could not find a way past Rosberg in the final stages of the grand prix.

In fact, had both of his pit stops been marginally quicker, Hamilton may have been able to get the jump on his teammate, and he will look at the data to see if there is any room for improvement.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to have a look at the feedback and just see what the team say about the stops,” Hamilton said on the podium after the race. “Maybe my position is not right, but obviously in those situations you’re just pushing.”

He quickly switched focus to yet another fantastic team performance by Mercedes, praising his colleagues for masterminding their sixth one-two finish in the last seven races.

“The guys have done a fantastic job,” Hamilton said. “As Nico said, to get another one-two here is just incredible. This track has been fantastic and the fans have been insane this weekend, so thank you all for the support.”

On Red Bull’s home turf, Mercedes was simply unstoppable. However, in the post-race press conference, Hamilton did look slightly subdued, and will undoubtedly be wondering what happened to the championship lead that he enjoyed just three races ago.

Unquestionably, it was a fine performance from the 2008 world champion, but by his own high standards, not winning the race will have come as a bitter blow.

Rosberg pleased with win after managing problems

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Nico Rosberg made no secret of his relief and delight after dealing with minor problems on his W05 Hybrid car to win today’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The German driver crossed the line less than one second ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, and was forced to fight for the win by the Briton, and also by the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.

Just as they did in Canada, both cars had a minor problem with their brakes, which the drivers had to manage. For Rosberg, the result was a relief.

“Yeah it wasn’t the easiest of races, trying to manage certain things which were a bit on the limit on the car,” he explained on the podium after the race. “But in the end, yeah, I had a very very fast car again, so it was fantastic to win today.

“It’s great also to get a one-two here in Austria, and it’s been great to come back here to Austria, for sure it deserves a race, and the fans have been amazing, the atmosphere has been spectacular this weekend, so thank you very much for that, and it’s been awesome.”

Rosberg is now looking forward to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which is just a few miles from Mercedes’ F1 factory in Brackley, and he is hoping for a repeat result in two weeks’ time.

“For sure, looking forwards to the net one, home race so will be awesome to do another one-two there, that would be great to give something back to all of our colleagues back in the factory, and I’m looking forward to that.”

With this win, Rosberg has extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 29 points, and will be doing everything in his power to win the British Grand Prix for the second year in a row. However, with Hamilton enjoying a partisan crowd, he too will be pushing to claim his second win at Silverstone and reduce the gap at the top of the standings.

Wolff confident Hamilton will come back stronger than ever

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Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is confident that Lewis Hamilton will come back stronger than ever following his second retirement of the season in Canada last weekend.

Both Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg were hit with a glitch on their cars that affected the ERS system, which in turn caused their brakes to fail and their straight line speed to drop. The problem on Hamilton’s car was so severe that the Briton had to pull out, while Rosberg was able to manage the issue and finish the race in second place.

As a result of the DNF, Hamilton now trails Rosberg by 22 points in the drivers’ championship, but Wolff is confident that his driver will bounce back.

“Obviously, Nico now holds an increased gap at the top of the championship, but Lewis is a fighter and I have no doubt that he will come back stronger than ever,” Wolff explained. “There is still a long way to go with twelve races remaining – thirteen if you count the double points round – so his challenge is far from over.

“This race shows how quickly things can change – not just between drivers, but between teams also – so we will be pushing harder than ever to ensure that we do not give away any more valuable points to our rivals.”

Wolff also explained how the team immediately worked to fix the problem on the cars after the race, as well as taking steps to prevent it from happening again.

“A small glitch in what has been an extremely reliable package so far this season proved to be extremely detrimental when it really counted on Sunday,” he said. “It’s something we immediately moved to analyse, understand and rectify to make sure it does not happen again.”

Despite this setback in Canada, Mercedes still looks set to win both championships in 2014, although it might have reduced the chances of the team doing so before the end of the main European season.